If there was really just one thing you could change to make your life markedly better, who wouldn't do that? Well, saying you'll do it is one thing. Sticking to it is something entirely different. I know because I did it.
One day a little over a year ago, my husband and I were sitting around trying to decide what to do over the weekend, and I realized we were in a rut. A deep one, too. I mean, we were tossing around some pretty pathetic ideas. Italian or Mexican? Movie theater or Netflix? Blah, blah, blah—the rest was too boring to even write about. It struck me hard.
I could make a million excuses for why we were in a rut—I'm a cancer survivor and my medication takes its toll on me occasionally, my husband works hard, our kids keep us busy—but the real reason we were in a rut was that at some point, we got protective of our time and it backfired.
Somewhere along the way, we forgot how we used to live. We were young and fun and maybe even a tiny bit cool. (My kids are cracking up right about now. That is, if they're even reading this. I'm an empty nester; who knows what they do in their spare time?)
We had become complacent, boring, and bored. It must have happened a little at a time. Like the frog in the boiling water, we didn't realize it until it was too late. Except now that I had realized it, I needed to fix it. That's me. I'm a fixer. Got a problem? I've got answers. So, how could I fix us? I thought about it for a little while, and then I said to my husband (who was mid-yawn at the time), "We've got to shake things up!"
I decided that from then on, whenever anyone asked us to do anything or go anywhere, we were going to say "YES!" (I can hear you groaning. My husband did, too.) Then he said, "You mean yes to everything? What about telemarketers and people asking for money? What about getting overextended at work?"
I had to admit he had a point. There needed to be ground rules. First, we committed to doing this for one year: The Year of Yes, we called it. Here's what we came up with:
- You must say yes to all social engagements unless there is a direct time conflict.
- Your default position must be yes, but you may exercise the option to say "no" if it involves a substantial financial commitment.
- The rule applies to social invitations, but the idea extends to all areas. Every invitation must be carefully considered from the position of participation.
The next week, we drove to a party in silence, both of us trying to brainstorm ways we could get out of it. Could I fake a headache? Could we create a distraction and then slip away unnoticed? Instead, we pulled up, handed over our regifted bottle of wine, and got the lay of the land. I scanned the faces around the room and made a mental note to get close to the guacamole station sooner than later.
At first glance, it seemed like the same boring crowd that attended all of the parties we were invited to, but after a second look, I recognized some new faces. I marched right up to them to introduce myself. My husband made a beeline for the bar. By the time we left that night, we had met two couples we both actually enjoyed. As I drove home, my husband and I grudgingly admitted the evening had been much more interesting than we had expected, and it certainly topped another rousing debate over where we'd order takeout from tonight. Our Year of Yes was off to a great start.
I'm not going to tell you that every event turned out better than we expected. Some were just as bad, if not worse, than we had anticipated. But at the end of those days or nights, we had only lost a few hours of our time—time that most likely would have been spent binge-watching House of Cards if we'd stayed home.
There were weeks when it felt like we were out all the time, and weeks when nobody called at all. And when we sat down at the end of the year to reflect, we realized we had made at least six truly valuable new friends, deepened relationships we had had for years, and broadened our horizons in unexpected ways.
We had seen parts of our town we didn't know existed, gone to festivals and films we never would have attended, eaten foods we had never tried, gone paragliding, attended conferences and lectures, lobbied on Capitol Hill, gone sailing, eaten too much, drunk too much, seen fireworks, hiked and cooked, danced, and even learned to paint (poorly, I might add). We laughed a lot, cried a little, and still haven't caught up with Francis and Claire Underwood. We remembered how to be spontaneous and how to listen to those who think differently than we do. We lived.
My husband and I were just looking for a little more fun in our lives, but what we found was much richer. As we reflected on our year, we decided to look forward and make the Year of Yes last a lifetime.